City Limits News | By Liz Crotty
In December, Ruth Leon-Villegas was waiting for a Manhattan train when a man pounced on top of her and threw her into a metal column, fracturing her neck, knocking her unconscious and sending her to the hospital.
This attack was just one in a long succession of alarming subway crimes that occurred in 2020 — as the Transit Bureau reported that subway crime was up 34 percent from 2019, with robbery more than doubling.
While certain subway crimes like turnstile jumping and grinding decreased during the citywide lockdown due to a significant reduction in ridership, these recent attacks have been part of an alarming trend of violent activity on our trains—including homicide, felony assault, robbery and rape—that has surpassed 2019’s figures.
One thing is clear: We must hire at least 500 additional police officers to help protect a transit system that accommodates more than a million rides daily.
This issue isn’t political. It’s about public safety. Providing more transit officers is a common sense way to ensure New Yorkers are safer on their way to and from work. The goal is not to increase arrests, but rather to allow commuters the peace of mind to securely use our transit system and persist through these difficult times without continuously fearing for their lives.
The Leon-Villegas incident wasn’t isolated either. Just a month earlier, two people were pushed on the tracks in the span of just three days—both suffering injuries. And earlier this month, an emotionally disturbed, naked man was electrocuted on the third rail in Harlem after shoving a man on the tracks and trying to prevent him from being rescued.
That’s why we need to employ our best judgement and bolster our underground police presence.
The idea of additional police has worked for New York in the past. In November, we lost former Mayor David Dinkins, who was a trailblazer in subway crime prevention. His Safe Streets, Safe City program added 6,000 police officers—a 54 percent increase of officers on patrol in our transit system daily. From the beginning of his term to the end, major crime fell 14 percent, with murders dropping 12 percent.
As a lifelong New Yorker who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I know the great strides we’ve made as a city in reducing subway crime. Make no mistake, those strides are a testament to the measures put in place to reduce the threat of violence.
The math is simple. In a time when less people are riding the subway due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crime is more likely to occur due to the lack of potential eyewitnesses and brave New Yorkers present as psychological and physical deterrents.
If we want to make sure our small and large businesses are allowed to survive and eventually thrive through these troubling times, that neighborhoods hustle and bustle as they did before the pandemic, and that revenues collected from industries like food service and the arts once again fund our city’s depleted coffers, the safety of our neighborhoods and our workforce must be a paramount goal.
Some may argue that hiring more police officers is a misuse of funds that should be put toward service enhancements, but public safety should always be our top priority as we do all we can as a municipality to make sure chaos does not befall us as it once did in less prosperous times.
It is also essential that this initiative be taken beyond Manhattan and extend to the far reaches of the outer boroughs. The measure won’t just help to ensure the safety of subway riders, but will also help safeguard transit workers already fighting daily to protect their physical health throughout the pandemic, allowing them to more effectively focus on providing a reliable transit system to all New Yorkers.
In 2020, felony and misdemeanor assaults on transit workers increased more than 50 percent from the previous year. Erik Garces, a train conductor, told the New York Times that the uptick in violence is “reminiscent of the bad days.”
We cannot trend backwards on this issue. We must increase the police presence on our subways to better ensure the safety of our great city.
Liz Crotty, a Democratic candidate for Manhattan District Attorney, is a former assistant District Attorney and criminal defense lawyer with more than 20 years’ experience. Liz is a lifelong New Yorker who was born and raised in Stuyvesant Town. She has her own lawn firm, Crotty Saland PC.